Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Hooked on Books

Sometimes on a summer Saturday, my father and my uncle would take us fishing at Bell River. Whether it was the first trip of the season, the temperature so chilly we had to wear hooded sweatshirts -- or a midsummer trip under a blazing hot sun, the scent of 6-12 insect-repellent heavy in the air -- or the last outing of the season with autumn leaves falling from the trees and floating across the water, certain things remained constant.

There was the anticipation as we drove into the country on dirt roads, discussing how many fish we'd catch -- though often we'd only catch little ones and toss them all back, returning home empty-handed and thinking, "Better luck next time!"

Standing on the shore, there were conversations about fish we'd seen, or thought we'd seen...maybe hiding behind that rock halfway across the water. We knew they just HAD to be there!

Then, on the way home, always: tales of the "ones that got away."

Time passed, things changed. My uncle died. I had a paper route that kept me busy Saturday mornings and couldn't go fishing anymore.

Instead I visited used bookstores -- and it dawns on me now that the experience isn't that different from fishing.

As I drive to the bookstore, I'm filled with anticipation over what I may find. I'll pull books off the shelf, only to discover they're old library copies or have crayon scribbling on the pages, and I'll toss them back. Often I leave the store empty-handed and thinking "Better luck next time!"

Yet when I'm standing in the store, there are always thoughts of books I've never seen, books I've only heard about, that may be tucked away on some broken shelf or hidden in some dark corner. They just HAVE to be somewhere! I'm talking about books like JUMPING-OFF PLACE by Marion Hurd McNeely and NEW LAND by Sarah Schmidt. Isn't there a copy of INVINCIBLE LOUISA in a dustjacket somewhere in this world? And has anyone ever even SEEN the book WINDY HILL by Cornelia Meigs?

Like any good fisher of books, I have my own stories of "those that got away." The very first day I discovered online bookselling I found first editions of THE MOVED-OUTERS by Florence Crannell Means and THE DARK STAR OF ITZA by Alida Malkus. I only had enough money for one and purchased MOVED-OUTERS. I loved the book, but made a bad decision in choosing it. Copies of MOVED-OUTERS always seem to be available, but I've never again seen a copy of DARK STAR OF ITZA for sale. Then there was the time I found a copy of WHERE THE LILIES BLOOM by Vera and Bill Cleaver, inscribed by the authors to the book's editor Dorothy Briley. I placed the order and waited and waited and waited...and finally contacted the seller to discover it had been sold to someone else. A signed copy of MRS. FRISBY AND THE RATS OF NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien turned up on eBay. How rare are signed copies of this book? My understanding is that even the author's daughter has never seen one. But when I logged on to eBay, my computer froze, and the auction ended while I was trying to reboot. Finally, there was a first edition of JOHNNY TREMAIN inscribed by author Esther Forbes to Clara Ford or, as I thought of her, "our" Clara Ford, since Clara was married to Henry Ford and I'm from Detroit. Unfortunately, the book was $100 and I didn't have the money. I saved up to buy it and, just when I almost had enough, the book was sold to someone else. Apparently that "someone else" was another book dealer, because several weeks later he listed the exact same copy of the book online for $200. So I had to start saving again, and right when I almost had enough money, the book was again sold. I keep expecting to see it listed online again someday...at $300, $400, $500...or more. And you know what will happen: I'll save up for it and, as soon as I get the money saved, someone will buy it out from under me.

Whether fishing for rock bass, or fishing for books, we all dream about the "perfect catch" and never stop wondering about "the ones that got away."

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